Today I needed cat food. I would be at the supermarket for that, so I also got fresh fruit. Walking through the store felt similar to what it felt like when I first got into recovery for alcoholism. It wasn’t that I was going to buy things, it’s that I felt really drawn to “I’ll just get one thing.” All of those “one thing” items were things I didn’t need. I didn’t buy those unneeded items, but it took concentration and mindfulness to focus on my task: buying fresh fruit and cat food.
One of the greatest benefits of these no groceries challenges I set out for myself is I start using what I already have in more efficient ways. We eat leftovers rather than forgetting them until they’ve gone bad. I’ve dug into the deep freezer and found plenty of yummy things, like apple cider I froze when it was fresh in the fall and many bags of par-boiled chard and kale from the summer’s garden. I’d forgotten what I’d put in that freezer. Little containers of Girl Scout Cookies, even! Yum.
So, once again, I’m finding that having a choice matters. I’m choosing to not go to the grocery store to “shop.” I’m choosing to not even step foot in the market unless there is an item we actually need. It’s educational and illuminating. It’s not terrifying, it’s liberating.
I’m reminded again and again of what a luxury it is to be making this choice. I’m still haunted by the overwhelming fear I felt in those days when I didn’t know how I would get groceries. I think of all of the people who are so deep in real poverty that the quicksand keeps pulling them back in no matter how hard they try to get out. I am so lucky that it was temporary, that I had resources—including SNAP/food stamps—to get through that time.
I’m eager to see how long I go without buying things we don’t need, those things that will be nice to have (I’ve got no bubbly water, but I’ll survive). The no groceries challenge is saving us money, making me grateful, and is certainly good for the environment. Plus, I found those Girl Scout cookies!
Today I went to the market. I got two apples, one blood orange, two avocados, Portland garbage bags, and toilet paper.
I had a $5 coupon from my last purchase (“cheat“) on the 20th, so my total spent was just over $16. The only items I actually needed were the trash bags and toilet paper.
We’re on target to stay away from the market for a while with the occasional exception of fresh fruit for my daughters.
As has happened every time, I’m learning a lot about how my mind works related to food and consumption.
Because it’s true that I’m only just on the edge of financial stability and saving money now will protect my stability in the future, this “no groceries challenge” isn’t fake. It’s not borne out of crisis, though, so it’s a little more like the SNAP challenge I criticized in the Bangor Daily News. So, I cheated.
Yesterday I bought a few bags of frozen fruit (buy $15, get $5 at Hannaford!) and yoghurt. When our fresh fruit runs out, we’ll still be able to make smoothies—until a few days ago, my daughters weren’t fans of smoothies, but that seems to’ve changed.
No matter how my business is growing, I know I would not have come out of that situational poverty without the support of my ex-husband and also gifts from my family. I’m an example of how unavoidable life circumstances and personal choices can lead to poverty. I’m also an example of how family background can make all the difference in getting out of the hole. My great uncle left me money that I used to buy a nearly-new car, for example. Car failure crisis averted.
The first time I did my no groceries challenge, I did it because I had been in a position where I didn’t have the money to buy groceries. Times are better, but the near-trauma of that experience looms large. I never want to go back there.
In May of 2013, I imposed a “no groceries” rule on myself to see how long I could go without going to the supermarket. I learned quite a bit more than I expected. I repeated the challenge in less stringent forms a couple more times. (To view those posts, you can visit the “no groceries” category on this site.)
With the full involvement of my daughters, we’re embarking on the challenge again. Two weeks of summer camp (paid for with scholarship money) for the last two or three years aren’t available this summer. This means decreased childcare and increased expenses. With some good luck and some good choices, I’m not currently facing the threat of negative bank balances. But, bills will come due. Without some drastic budget cutting or with some bad luck, it could be dire.
Most of my expenses are fixed (rent, phone, Internet, tuition, insurance). One area where we have some control is food. I don’t expect it will make all the difference we need as I look towards the challenges of summer, but as it was before, just the actions themselves—knowing I can do something—keeps me on the side of gratitude rather than fear.
Full disclosure: I will not have a zero-tolerance rule for this challenge. We’ll get fresh fruits and vegetables as we need them, and, after a chunk of time going without (almost) entirely, if there are one or two ingredients that will make a meal complete, I’ll get them. No “grocery shopping,” at all. No remembering “I need x or y” when I’m picking up a prescription, etc. No “I wish we had a frozen pizza, I am so bleeping tired…” purchases.
We went to Hannaford today which I only recently learned has much better prices than the Shaw’s we had been using (I assumed grubby = cheaper!) and stocked up on some staples like dried beans and kale (to parboil and freeze) as well as some perishables that will last like tofu and sweet potatoes. We’re ready.
Since the late 80s, I’ve been working on and through my own racism. I’ve written about it on my own blog, before it was called a blog, and I’ve written about it in my newspaper column at the Bangor Daily News.
As the news coverage of the Department of Justice’s study of Ferguson continues, I’ve caught myself in old patterns of translating the facts. I invite my white friends to listen to your inner voices. We want racism to be not as bad as it is. We want that so much. So, to make it easier, when we hear shocking statistics we may translate them into less devastating facts. Maybe you don’t do it, but I know I have.
As I wrote in one of my BDN columns about racism—the one with deeply offensive thoughts as the first sentences—I think we well-meaning white people get so caught up in wanting to be not-racist that we aren’t able to engage in authentic relationships with people of color which means we can’t take or even support real action to change (institutionalized) racism.
Here’s the translation I’ve had to use over and over again as I listen to the news stories, using one statistic as an example:
news story: 93% of summons issued for jaywalking were issued to black people.
me: (for a millisecond) probably more black people jaywalked. maybe that’s something that happens more often in black neighborhoods and maybe there’s a non-racist reason why it’s considered such a bad thing.
me: *checks myself* the police are targeting black people for “crimes” and they are not targeting white people for the same “crimes.”
I’ve had to fix my thoughts again and again as I listen to the news. Each time I hear a statistic, my millisecond “please make this not as bad as it is” thought is louder and more easily detected. It flashes away faster, too.
Just like my work a decade ago getting beyond the “please consider me one of the GOOD white people” nonsense, the desire to have our racist systems be not as bad as they are leads me to an easy way out (hearing the statistic and thinking probably they deserved it).
Please consider reading The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, or listening to the audiobook, or simply listening to Michelle Alexander’s many public presentations. It is the knowledge of her work resting inside my gut that helps me face the ugly truth that I am still trying to avoid the ugly truth about racism in our country.